By D. K. Christi
Estero High School senior Taylor Bouchard had a far out dream when she was 17. One year later, that dream has been realized in Ducklings Travel, a charity Bouchard founded to help defray expenses of young surgery patients who must travel a great distance for specialized medical procedures — children like her.
As an outstanding student on multiple levels, Bouchard recently was selected as winner of the Rising Star award presented at The News-Press People of the Year Awards ceremony in February 2019. The Foundation for Lee County Public Schools participates in the selection process for this category.
Bouchard says it was an awesome experience to be part of the ceremony and look around the room full of recipients (in several categories) – likeminded people who are all doing amazing things to make a difference in the world.
“Here I was, born with a medical condition that caused disadvantages and struggles, and I was experiencing something remarkable,” says Bouchard. “I knew if I was the Rising Star, I had things to do and changes to make.”
Donna Noonan, Estero High’s college and career counselor, nominated Bouchard for the award. She considers Bouchard a student whose accomplishments stand out among her peers.
“Taylor is a rock star,” says Noonan. “I am so grateful to work with students such as Taylor. It keeps me humble and mindful that I am where I belong.”
Bouchard’s focus for the present and the future is Ducklings Travel. The idea came from the extreme travel expenses her family has incurred for multiple surgeries (15 to date) to treat an arteriovenous malformation(AVM), a bundling of blood vessels that causes swelling in her face.
“I saw other children awaiting surgery when I was 2,000 miles from home (in Colorado) also waiting,” recalls Bouchard. “Many of these families did not have the financial means to cover the extreme travel costs required to meet their children’s unique medical needs.”
She discussed her concern with her mom, Emily Bouchard, who agreed that a charity to help defray those travel expenses was an unmet need. Taylor says her mom is her best friend, her advocate and the supporter of her seemingly impossible dream.
Emily Bouchard, who had to sign the incorporation papers since Taylor was only 17 at the time, says she never realized the amount of red tape involved in starting a charitable organization.
“We named the charity together,” adds Emily. “Duck was Taylor’s nickname, and a charity for children’s travel expenses just naturally became Ducklings Travel.”
Now with all their “ducks in a row,” Taylor is able to assume the president’s role for Ducklings Travel, having turned 18 on March 28. Her mom remains vice president.
“The entire family is proud of Taylor,” says her mom, including Taylor’s dad, Luke, and brother, Ty. “We are beyond blessed to call her our own. He brother’s baseball team has Ducklings Travel shirts.”
Julia Mattos, Spanish teacher and senior class advisor, says Taylor is a creative, innovative and compassionate student who overcomes her own challenges and is always ready to step in where needed. Taylor credits Mattos with being a consistently positive influence in her life since the sixth grade.
Upon graduation this month, Taylor will receive a Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) Diploma, demonstrating her commitment as a high achieving student. She also has been active in athletics, student government and other school activities.
“The charity was Taylor’s passion in spite of a full junior year,” marvels Mattos, who supported Taylor in getting Ducklings Travel off the ground.
By the time Bouchard was a senior, Ducklings Travel had a website (with donation button), and local businesses were supporting fundraisers. The first family was selected as a beneficiary of Ducklings Travel in April 2019.
The coming year for Bouchard will not only include starting college but also continued development of Ducklings Travel: more fundraising activities and cultivation of community partnerships and collaborations. Bouchard is currently working with Naples Community Hospital (NCH) Healthcare Network for referrals and has plans to expand referral networks.
This fall, Bouchard will attend Florida Gulf Coast University, planning to major in Business with special emphasis on nonprofit management.
“She had acceptances from many universities,” notes her proud mom. “But after the selection as Rising Star, FGCU President (Mike) Martin offered her a presidential scholarship. That confirmed her FGCU choice.”
“I chose FGCU to be near my home base for the Ducklings Travel charity,” adds Taylor.
She says Student Council experiences at Estero High and a supportive circle of family, teachers and peers has contributed to her success. Taylor adds that her parents have demonstrated a life of character and continue to encourage compassion and strong faith.
“Sometimes it is possible to get caught up in seeing a negative world on a large scale,” says Bouchard. “Really good people do exist. We can make change – bring hope for the future – when we work together.”
To support Taylor Bouchard’s efforts with Ducklings Travel, visit the nonprofit’s website at www.ducklingstravel.org.